May 2, 2017

Love, Loan Sharks and Lee Seo Jin

Loan sharks are as necessary to Korean drama as water is to fish. They are cupids with brass knuckles, traumatizing Kdrama heroines into sketchy arrangements, where – after misunderstandings, humiliation, heavy labor, and disheartening setbacks – they ultimately find love and economic security. At least, that is the typical scenario.

The loan shark has been as necessary to Lee Seo Jin’s dramas as to anyone else’s, but with a difference. Check out the twists on the loan shark/love/LSJ triangle in his last three romance dramas.

Marriage Contract

A loan shark grabs Uee by the collar and threatens to sell her young daughter for sex if she doesn't pay her debtWith a contemptuous expression on his face, Lee Seo Jin summons Uee with a gesture used only for animals
The hero is as mean as the loan sharks. I guess you could say LSJ rescues our heroine from the loan sharks. But he doesn’t do it for love (at least, not for love of her). There’s a steep price indeed! Maybe she should’ve just gotten herself a lawyer.


Wonderful Days

Debt collector Kim Hee Sun badgers violent loan shark Ok Taecyon
The heroine is a loan shark. Sort of. LSJ’s childhood sweetheart works for loan sharks. She is such an effective persuader that their rougher tactics are rarely called for. She has her reasons for this unconventional career choice, but since Lee Seo Jin is a prosecutor… awkward!

Alas, her bravado, quick thinking and stellar negotiation skills are dust in the wind once she abandons her unwomanly calling to assume her “rightful” role as wife and daughter-in-law. In fact, for the second half of the drama, she creates one mess after another by impulsively acting on misperceptions. This is utterly inconsistent with her previous street smarts. She’s not really cut out for Korean family life – she was better at debt collecting!


Lovers

Kim Gyu Ri stares at the fist Lee Seo Jin has just pounded on her desk after breaking up her father's shop
LSJ is the loan shark. In one of LSJ’s most popular dramas, we see in flashbacks that he used to be a loan shark. He has moved on to more exalted gang roles and then to rehabilitation by the time we meet him, but his girlfriend remains as a reminder of the bad old days – they met when he was shaking down her father!


Loan Sharks in Real Life

On a more serious note, loan sharks are not just a humorous Kdrama plot device. Predatory lending is an actual and serious problem in South Korea. This 2009 article shows loan sharking complaints steadily climbing, and it is clear from this 2016 article describing a crackdown by Seoul’s metropolitan police that the situation has continued to worsen. The U.S. State Department draws a connection between loan sharking and human trafficking. Let’s hope the next Korean President will make predatory lending a priority on a national scale (improving women’s rights and the economy would also help).


See all reviews of Dramas with Lee Seo Jin

April 17, 2016

Marriage Contract Poll Redux

An anguished Hye Soo looks heavenward as she pleads that she still has a lot to do in lifeRemember that poll I posted when the Marriage Contract plot and casting was first announced?

As you can probably tell, I am a bit cynical about plots that capitalize on extreme situations. However, Marriage Contract has earned honestly every tear and smile it has wrung from me, and there have been plenty of both.

With only 3 episodes left, it’s time to revisit the poll.

How Will They Save Her?

  1. MISDIAGNOSIS. She was never sick in the first place.
  2. SPONTANEOUS RECOVERY. It’s a miracle! Love conquers all!
  3. A DONOR APPEARS. A relative she never knew she had!
  4. THEY WON’T. But we’re OK with it, because she becomes a sympathetic ghost watching over her family.
  5. He makes enough money to send her to Duke University for the new treatment that has cured people with terminal brain cancer.

We can throw out the misdiagnosis option. That ship has sailed.

Ditto for the donor solution. Stop laughing at me – how could I know the affected organ was her brain?! The initial announcements weren’t that specific. And even so, if this was a horror drama… But since it’s melodrama, I think brain transplants are out.

As for resolution number 4, 절대! Don’t ever bring that up again.

Most interesting is the final option on the poll, which was not one of my originals, but was added by a viewer. That’s my favorite, though I wouldn’t say no to a spontaneous remission either.

Going to America is a solution for so many things in Kdrama that it’s an awful cliche, but Marriage Contract has successfully overridden many cliches already. I’m sure they could make it stick. And LSJ just spoke English in episode 11, so there you go.

Meet you at the airport.


Related:
Lee Seo Jin to Star in Upcoming Drama – Poll
Marriage Contract Off to a Strong Start
Marriage Contract – I Do
KDrama Word of the Day: Bison (Hand Rubbing)
Dramas with Lee Seo Jin

March 21, 2016

Marriage Contract - I Do

Screenshot of Viki ratings for drama Marriage Contract sowing a 9.7 average out of 286 ratingsI’m continuing to find plenty to like in MBC’s new weekend drama, Marriage Contract. And I’m not alone. As of episode 6, broadcast ratings are holding steady or increasing, and the Viki rating has edged up another tenth of a star to 9.7.

Not only do the tireless volunteer subbers English-caption episodes within hours of receiving them (사랑해요, Mother’s Love team!), but subtitles are also available in 13 other languages as well.

I’ve had some problems with the ads on Viki. They break in to the most intense scenes mid-sentence, repeat the same ad 4 times in a row in one commercial break, or hang and crash the flash plugin so that I have to reload. Talk about killing the mood!

I’m grateful that there are sponsors, and I understand how necessary they are, but regular ads are one thing, and having the whole viewing experience disrupted by broken ads is another. Hopefully Viki will get this straightened out soon.

Meanwhile, I’m seeing no ads on DramaFever, but I have to wait until Monday instead of watching over the weekend. TIP: If the new eps don’t appear to be posted yet on DF on a Monday, check the dropdown episode list in the player.

Marriage Contract is checking all of the mandatory KDrama boxes: Romantic wound-tending, piggyback rides and frequent food porn. Today I’ll give propers to some of the supporting characters, who are often unsung.

Kim Young Pil looks outraged as his father accuses him of failing in his romantic relationshipsInitially, I felt some sympathy for 형 (Kim Young Pil). One day, he’s a rich man’s only son. The next, he’s sharing both of his parents with an illegitimate half-brother who’s brighter, more charming, and looks like Lee Seo Jin. Ouch.

But tough as that might be, and mean as his father is, it’s hard to empathize with a 40 year-old man who throws hissy fits like a toddler at naptime. Are we seeing his ugly side because he’s about to do something nasty?

MORE…

March 13, 2016

Marriage Contract Off to a Strong Start

I’m 4 episodes into Marriage Contract, one quarter of the way through the new MBC drama starring Lee Seo Jin and Uee. It was promoted as a melodrama, not my favorite genre, so my hopes weren’t high. I’m happy to report that it is better than I expected.

Hye Soo and Ji Hoon exchange a meaningful glance in the front seat of his car after she prevents his mother from killing herself
Uee is new to me, but she has a long history in Kpop, and quite a few dramas under her belt as well. Therefore, I was surprised by her blank, mannikin-like persona during the drama’s press conference. It was hard to picture her as an expressive actress, or even as a real girl.

However, it turns out that there is much more to Kim Yu Jin than meets the eye. She brings a rare dimensionality to the down-on-her-luck-and-desperate spunky heroine. This is even more of an accomplishment when you consider that the upper half of her face is obscured by her hair in many of her most important scenes.

Shin Rin Ah gives Uee 2 thumbs up for a delicious meal
Uee is a devoted mother to Shin Rin Ah, and their scenes together are touching. Although her luck is relentlessly awful, and she has shell-shocked moments when she receives bad news, we never see Uee surrender to the despair that is so often the precursor to a loveless marriage in Kdrama. She puts up with a lot when she must, but she is no martyr. Push her too far, and she pushes back. Whatever others may think about her life, she never doubts her own values or perceptions. In her introverted, understated way, she holds up and keeps moving under unbelievable stresses.

Lee Seo Jin is in his element, in a role that shows off his impressive range. His character is a major jerk from the opening scene,* leaving plenty of room for transformative growth. It’s risky to start off a drama this way. Without depth and complexity, an unpleasant leading man can turn viewers off. Not a problem with LSJ, though. The underlying humanity of his characters always shines through, no matter how badly they behave.
Lee Seo Jin walks down a hotel corridor grinning smugly and ignoring the calls of the woman he has just dumped from the doorway behind himLee Seo Jin's concerned face is reflected in the window as he looks into the hospital room where his mother is hooked up to monitors and IVs


I’m looking forward to learning more of Ji Hoon’s backstory, particularly about his former life as a musician. MORE…

January 13, 2016

Lee Seo Jin to Star in Upcoming Drama - Poll

Lee Seo Jin fan? Me, too. Annoyed by “reality” TV? Me, too. For the likes of us, the year and a half since Wonderful Days wrapped up has been long and weary.

But rejoice, relief is in sight! LSJ has signed up for a new weekend drama on MBC. Many of LSJ’s most popular roles have been in MBC dramas (Hon, Damo, Yi San, & Gye Baek), along with some of his less known work.

MBC is really stepping up their outreach to English-speaking U.S. audiences these days – check out their MBC America page. Don’t miss the VOD tab, where you can view previous MBC series via embedded Hulu. Move over, KBS!

English home page for MBC AmericaHome page of
Kim Yu Jin, better known as UEE of the girl group After School, has been confirmed as oppa’s significantly younger leading lady. Hmm.

But she’s not just another pretty face. Acting was her original ambition before she took a detour into K-pop. She has appeared in a number of dramas, beginning with Queen Seonduk in 2009 (which was my intro to Kdrama and Korea), working her way up to leading roles, and receiving awards.

The new drama, with the working title of Hundred-Day Wife but now being referred to as Marriage Contract, is scheduled to start airing in Korea on Saturday & Sunday nights in late February. I’m psyched that it only has 20 episodes, which means more airtime for LSJ to do what he does best.

I’ll be watching on a local MBC broadcast station. Yes, I do know how lucky I am! But MBC has broadcast stations in several US markets, as well as availability through various broadband providers, so check their map before you hunker down to disconsolately wait for one of the streaming services to get it.

GirlFriday, my favorite bean, translates the description of Marriage Contract as “a warm, cheerful series” about a widowed single mom with a terminal illness. Only in Korea!

They won’t really kill off the leading lady at the end, of course. Or will they? You never can tell with Kdrama. Place your bets, people….

How will they save her?
October 11, 2015

KDrama Word of the Day: Compulsion (강제)

A clenched fistI came across this word while I was browsing a fascinating site by a Korean attorney. He explains Korean laws in excellent English, with full details, such as example scenarios, current cases, and the Hangeul terms that are used. One of those terms was 강제 or compulsion, forcing someone to do something with intimidation or violence.

My Korean language studies could not be called diligent, but I do try to sound out Hangeul words when I encounter them, and this one sounded out as “Kang Jae.” Wait, thought I. Where have I heard that before?

Actually, that’s just artistic dramatization. I immediately recognized it as the name of Lee Seo Jin’s character in Lovers. At least, it sounded the same. I searched high and low for a cast list that included the character names in Hangeul. I didn’t find one, so I don’t know whether the name of Kang Jae-the-lover was actually spelled the same way in Hangeul. But even if it wasn’t, I’m sure the sound-alike effect was no accident. Word play is common in Korean drama, and it just fits too well to be a coincidence, right?

April 13, 2014

Wonderful Days music

I can’t say the Wonderful Days music is knocking my socks off. The opening instrumental theme is especially nondescript. I’d swear I was listening to a long forgotten (and rightly so) 1960s European film. The Korean affection for unremarkable mid-twentieth-century pop music from the west is mysterious. I asked a young Korean student whether 70s and 80s American Top 40 hits are really played in all the restaurants, as we so often see in dramas. He confirmed that they are indeed. I asked why? Why not Kpop? “Kpop doesn’t have the right…,” I waited in suspense while he looked up the English word he wanted to use. “…ambiance,” he said. Unlike the Carpenters?? Still baffled.

But back to Wonderful Days. The opening theme works a lot better as a ballad. The singer sounded a bit like one of my favorites, ALi, in the stronger passages, but not so much during the softer parts of the song. It took some digging to find out who it was – Seo Young Eun, of whom I haven’t heard before. This and the other ballads in Wonderful Days are well sung.

I decided it was time to track down the lyrics, which often serve as background narration on important points of plot or motivation. I’ve been watching Wonderful Days on KBS, since my TV screen is bigger than my monitor (and I’m too impatient to wait for Viki), but KBS doesn’t bother to subtitle song lyrics.

Never fear, though – the fansubbers that do subtitles on Viki DO subtitle all the lyrics. This is why I love fan subbers – they think like viewers. Thanks, No Place Like Home Team!

I’d like to give the Wonderful Days director credit for using the background swish of the waves in the beach scenes in episodes 11 & 12 to good advantage, and at just the right volume, and not mucking those moments up with unnecessary music. Beach scenes are pretty common in Kdrama (Korea being surrounded on three sides by water, and all), and so is artistic framing (lamp posts are particularly popular – there was even one in the beach scenes), but these were some of the nicer ones I’ve seen. The timing of the gulls was so fortuitous, they might’ve been part of the cast.

I also enjoyed the love poem in episode 12 (it sounds better in Korean :). That adorable young Hae Won, who looks about 13, is actually 20-year old Kpop starlet Kwon Min Ah, from the group Ace of Angels. Weird they aren’t crediting her more noticeably, in the English credits, anyhow. Still wondering who plays young Dong Seok.

April 7, 2014

Passion Distraction Poll - Move Over, Colin Firth

Episode 10 of Wonderful Days is highly gratifying to those of us who enjoy seeing a man tortured by longing. Colin Firth has long been acknowledged as the hottest frustrated lover of all time, but Lee Seo Jin is giving him a run for best passion distraction scenes – literally!

Lee Seo Jin as Kang Dong Seok in Wonderful Days runs on a treadmill to try and shake off his longing for Kim Hee Seon as Cha Hae Won;Lee Seo Jin stares into a mirror in a steamy bathroom thinking about the woman he loves

Colin Firth in a damp shirt and rumpled hair from the BBC 1995 miniseries Pride & Prejudice

Who is the hottest frustrated lover ever?

March 15, 2014

Wonderful Days, episodes 1-3

Now why is it so intriguing to see Lee Seo Jin speak English? I’m liking how real he looks in this drama (if you disagree, you may find this video from a recent Cosmo shoot more to your taste). But it’s weird that they have him playing a 33-year old. He makes 43 look good, but 33 he is not. Would it have been that hard to adjust the script to the casting??

Mihansa.net is not a Lee Seo Jin fan site. However, if for some unfathomable reason you don’t find him worth watching, better come back in about 6 months when Wonderful Days is over, ’cause I am going to be mentioning his name a few times until then.

I wonder what children are really like in Korea. They are always so incredibly sophisticated and wise (not to say mouthy) in Kdramas. Hard to understand how they become such tortured teenagers and neurotic adults after such a promising start.

WARNING — WARNING — WARNING — SPOILERS AHEAD MORE…

March 10, 2014

Watch Wonderful Days on Viki

North and South American viewers can now watch the new KBS drama Wonderful Days on Viki (many thanks to Kim for bearing this excellent news).

Lee Seo Jin’s talent for non-verbal expression is a great fit for his outwardly cold but internally turbulent character. 2 pm’s Teac Yeon plays a more straightforward character, and so far is doing a respectable job of it for a Kpop star with limited acting experience. There are great female characters in this drama, too – loving feisty Kim Hee Sun and Yoon Yeo Jeong, whose role promises a depth worthy of her versatility, for once.

Viki’s page for Wonderful Days has extremely helpful character (not actor) bios to help sort out the rather complicated family relationships and back stories. They are a little spoiler-y after only two episodes, though, so be warned.

Enjoy!